Brief Bigfoot sighting in 1995 started Hampshire man on expensive quest to track ‘legendary beast’
ROMNEY – With the sleeves of his black button-up shirt neatly rolled to the elbows, Bill Draginis stands at the bow of his cottage’s deck explaining the specs of a NASA-grade telescope.
[cleeng_content id="951732538" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]“We can read the names on the gravestones way down there,” he says, and points into the tree-stuffed nooks of the valley. Miniature versions of a road, a white church and its corresponding graveyard dot the space below, what seems like miles away.
High atop the mountains of Hampshire County, with its thick canopy and its lack of civilization’s hallmarks, it strikes you as possible that something could exist here in these woods, something dark, something evasive.
You look into the telescope to see for yourself.
Sure enough, the gravestone names show clearly.
Bill’s eyes narrow, gleaming with all the reverence and authority of a whaleboat captain. “So you’re here to talk about Sasquatch,” he says, the right breast of his shirt read the words Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization. Similar to three other hunters who have joined him at the camp – a father-son pair from Virginia and a Marylander who doubles as the camp’s cook – Bill smiles genuinely, but speaks unapologetically. “Well, let’s have a seat and get started.”
For whatever else you may notice about Bill –a well spoken, polished manner – he reminds you immediately of the kind of guy who reads the user manual.
So when he starts the story of how he came to see Bigfoot with a joke, that a user’s manual for his newly purchased Eagle Spectrum metal detector said it was better for Bill make a fool out himself in his own back yard before he started digging up other people’s, you believe him.
The joke’s meaning illuminates as the story goes on.
Yes, he had been warned to practice before digging up somebody else’s yard. But little did Bill know that when he and two friends traipsed into the Northern Virginia wilderness, they would unwittingly dig up the property of someone, or something, else.
In the late winter of 1995, two longtime friends described as “special agents with the government,” invited Bill to join them on a trip with his detector near some abandoned gold mines in Culpepper County. After a long afternoon hiking through the forest in the cool with their metal detectors in a quest for Civil War artifacts, Bill and his friends decided to call it quits in the late afternoon.
The three began the trek back, walking home down a hard-packed logging trail through the spindly boughs and trunks of the leaf-barren trees.
It was a new hobby at the time, metal detecting, something that got him outdoors, and the more Civil War artifacts Bill found under the layers of decomposed leaves and bark, the more his desire kindled to know more about the war.
Then, on the walk home, one of Bill’s friends stopped dead in his tracks and thrust his arms out to his sides.
Quietly, carefully, the agent said, “Follow, from my shoulder to the tip of my finger, 75 feet. There’s a man behind that tree.”
The friend Bill knew to have served three tours in Vietnam as a “point man,” nervously drew his 9 mm and aimed it toward the tree.
It’s all-too-common, Bill says, that in some parts of those woods, marijuana planters stand guard to protect their gardens. This was not a pot grower.
“A huge, black, hairy head looked out from the side of the tree,” he says. “We made eye contact. And within a split second, it ran, from left-to-right, with such speed my mind couldn’t take it in. My eyes just couldn’t take it in.”
The 7-foot beast loped deeper into the woods, Bill says, pivoting off a tree with its massive foot and then lumbering down a hill and blinking out of sight.
“As it got away from us, all you could see were these massive shoulders. Huge muscled shoulders moving back and forth,” he says.
“Do you know what we just saw?” the agent friend had asked as the trio stood, dumbfounded there in the woods.
“Bigfoot?” Bill said.
They all agreed: what they had just seen could be nothing but the legendary beast.
From its sighting to its disappearance, Bill claims, took all but 12 seconds.
“To look into its eyes”
That was all that was needed to propel Bill into spending 18 years and tens of thousands of dollars to once again spot the elusive Bigfoot.
His hunts began with many hikes, he said, which turned up little by way of Sasquatch.
“I would hear calls,” he says. “But after some research, those would inevitably turn out to be birds or other animals.”
It occurred to Bill that, after these years of bad luck on his own, it was probably a good idea to reach out to others who may have seen Bigfoot themselves. He decided to place an ad in Northern Virginia Electric Co-Op, a magazine that is mailed to all its members throughout Virginia.
“I got a lot of responses the first time I asked, about 25 or 30. State policemen, lawyers, doctors, dentists, hunters, farmers,” Bill says. “Many of them wouldn’t tell their children or spouses for fear of being ridiculed.”
That number soon reached the triple digits.
Bill has since formed the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization, a group composed of about 40 members of like-minded Bigfoot hunters.
“Hunters,” though, may be a bit of a misnomer: Bill makes sure to stress that the group has no interest in shooting or killing a Sasquatch. He carries a pistol on his hunting expeditions, he says, only for self-protection.
“Bears are out there, you know,” he says. “And the people you can come across in the woods.”
Bill says there are many types of Bigfoot hunters out there – many are trying to achieve stardom or a payday for bagging or photographing the beast once and for all.
It’s not fame or fortune that’s driving Bill and his crew: He’s just looking for validation of that first experience with another, some confirmation.
“All I want,” he says, “is to look into its eyes again.”
Tools of the trade
And in order to go eye-to-eye with a Bigfoot, Bill’s doing just about everything he can.
Since the sighting, his hardware has evolved from a pair of binoculars and his own 2 feet into an arsenal that would make your everyday hunter blush with envy: Bill’s equipment includes an RV, more specifically a former mobile veterinary clinic, retrofitted with more equipment than a surveillance submarine. He has dozens of cameras that he’s specifically made himself as to not emit any ultrasonic noise. He has that NASA-grade telescope. And infrared sensors. And thermal cameras. And night vision cameras.
His piece de resistance is a $15,000 drone helicopter, like one used in the military.
“It has a GPS-location based system where I can plug coordinates in and have it patrol those areas,” he said. “I can also send it out from the RV and have it patrol 100, 150 feet up. I can attach any number of cameras to it, too.”
The tools Bill has employed in his pursuit of Bigfoot aren’t merely technological in nature, either: He’s since taught himself a host of abilities meant to bolster his chances of finding Bigfoot.
Bill said he’s studied calls of animals that populate deciduous forests and how to wire, program and create cameras, some of which he’s patented and now calls “EyeGotcha.”
Bill has studied the biological history of mankind and other species closely related to homo sapiens. He’s participated in workshops and seminars, too; one of which, he said, involved a Native American tactic of walking through the woods in the pitch black of night.
“I wanted to know how Bigfoot could possibly walk through the forest in the dark,” he said. “The Native Americans showed me that they can beat a drum in the distance and the bass sort of shows where the trees around you are. They showed us the next day where we had walked through. It was this dense forest and I hadn’t hit a single tree.”
It would seem like, if anybody is going to find Bigfoot, it’s going to be this guy.
Through all of his research into sightings and other accounts, Bill’s concept of Bigfoot mimics some of the same basic concepts as common lore.
A picture – set to scale – of the most famous photograph of Bigfoot hangs at the lip of his cottage’s yard. He draws a huge duffel bag from his truck that’s filled with huge, plaster casts of alleged Bigfoot tracks and spreads them out to estimate the beast’s stride.
He says he thinks one reason Bigfoots are known to clobber trees with sticks is that “they could be sending messages to their families underground through the root system.”
He says that he thinks the Bigfoot he saw in Culpepper County could’ve been using a technique used sometimes in the military to draw attention away from its family.
He says he believes the massive beast is related to humans, but not how you might expect.
“I think it’s original man,” he says. “Some people think it’s an off-shoot of us. I think rather we’re an off-shoot of it.”
“I think it’s a more peaceful version of humans, really. I think it avoids us because it sees how poorly we treat nature,” he says. “I would avoid us, too, if I were it.”
To hack it as a Bigfoot hunter, Bill and his team say, you have to be prepared for the response you’ll get from those less peaceful beings, too.
You have to develop thick skin when you’re ridiculed. You have to be primed for the social backlash.
When you get a claim of sighting, you have to be ready for the possibility that it’s just a joke at your expense. Even within the Bigfoot community, Bill says, there are those who think it’s impossible for the animal to live in the eastern United States.
“The Pacific Northwest people get snotty,” Bill says. “They think that the only place that a Bigfoot can exist in the U.S. is there.”
Bill and his team estimate that there could be as many as 2,000 Bigfoots living on and under Virginia soil. At dinner, a beef stew prepared by the cook over the fire, the group speaks with reverence of the beast, of the time they spend as brothers in arms in the woods. Like so much else in life, it would seem like it’s not the result that’s important here, but rather the chase itself.
“Not everybody understands what it’s like to hunt this thing, but I know what I saw,” Bill says. “I can still remember it as clear as day. … It’s not something that I want to keep doing, really. I want to pick another hobby, but I’m not going to quit until I see it again.”
When asked what else has given him the motivation to keep going – after only getting those 12 seconds those long years ago, after spending all that money, after studying the noises of the forest, placing cameras and checking their footage, after renovating an off-the-grid cabin in Hampshire County, after traveling across the country to talk with other Bigfoot hunters, after being ridiculed and mocked and derided – Bill smiles and he says, “Nothing, nothing else.”
At the end of the day, you simply have to believe what you’ve seen. You have to trust your own eyes.